Comfort. Joy. Expectation.

November 29, 2010

Sometimes the words of old songs can be confusing.  And sometimes simple punctuation can make all the difference.  I hope we don’t spend too much time worrying about that as we sing Christmas carols and songs.  But note the comma in the first line.  This is not a greeting to merry gentlemen.  “God rest ye merry” is a 15th century way of saying, May God make you happy.”  The next line may be equally confusing, but in reality is only saying, “Don’t worry about anything.”  Have hope, don’t worry, be happy!  Jesus is born.

This song has been around a long time, it may be one of the earliest English carols.  Dickens even mentioned it in A Christmas Carol in 1843. I think it has survived because of the hope and joy it expresses.  Tidings of comfort and joy!

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay (Why?  The answer appears in the following lines)
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power (Death has lost its power, its sting.)
When we were gone astray (I was lost but I have been found.)
O tidings of comfort and joy, (And Hope!  There is hope here!)
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

In Bethlehem, in Israel,
This blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
The which His Mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds  (Hope, even for shepherds.)
Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
“Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind:
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

And when they came to Bethlehem
Where our dear Saviour lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

It’s almost like putting the gospel to music. And the final verse is a six-hundred-year-old worship song.  I hope in this season of Advent, of expectation, you experience comfort and joy as only one who follows Jesus can know.  And I hope you share it with those around you.  We are in a world and time that sharing tidings of comfort and joy might be all someone needs.  In this week of Hope, offer hope.  Offer Jesus.

I used to sign-off a lot of correspondences with the valediction,  “With joy and expectations.”  Maybe I’ll add “comfort.” as well.

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